“Sorry, I haven’t eaten all day, I hope you don’t mind,” Kaitlyn Drake said as she leaned across her bed, munching on some dry cereal over Zoom. It was a minute before 7:00 p.m. and I was curled up in bed on my laptop, and Kaitlyn, or Drake as she goes by, was laying in bed an hour before she had to be on duty as a Resident Assistant in Jogues Hall.
Drake became involved with the Every Voice Coalition this past summer, more for something to do than anything else.
Someone she knew originally got the offer to join, but was too busy to take on the project, and so Drake, as she told me, was given the opportunity to “put my actions where my mouth is…sometimes raising awareness just isn’t enough.”
With sexual assault cases on college campuses as prevalent as they are, Every Voice was created by students to encourage them to actually show up for change, not just provide lukewarm support. They believed their Title IX coordinators weren’t doing enough, and wanted to pass legislation supporting change in their schools.
Since their 2016 start, students have written bills in five states. This year, two of those bills, in Hawaii and New Hampshire, passed in the Senate.
Drake is Fairfield’s campus lead, and a member of Every Voice’s Steering Committee. When she heard Fairfield University’s Title IX plan was under review and changing to meet federal standards, she reached out to Megan Monahan, director of Title IX and equity compliance at Fairfield, to talk through the plans.
As Monahan tells me, “the newly revised Amnesty for Complainants and Witnesses Policy included in the new Sexual Misconduct Policy encompasses the provisions of Every Voice’s proposed legislation. This means that Fairfield provides amnesty to students and employees.”
Usually, this is used in non-Title IX related areas, as in underage drinking, drug use and, during the time of COVID-19, students violating social distancing guidelines, gathering policies or mask policies. But Fairfield wants to transfer this amnesty, “as a way to remove a potential barrier to seeking or offering that support” to make sure students feel safe coming forward, Monahan says.
These changes come on the back-end of the Department of Education mandating new changes to the national Title IX policy. Fairfield University is required to change its own policy to follow said standards. Monahan said the goal is to, “comply with the new federal Title IX regulations and existing state laws, while also upholding our Jesuit values and ensuring that all community members have a safe living, learning and working environment.”
The Department of Education notes 14 new key provisions to the Title IX policy, which are all available on their website.
One notable change under the key provisions is the changing definition of what constitutes sexual harassment. Now, the definition of sexual harassment is being expanded “to include sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking, as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex,” as listed on the Department of Education’s website.
There is also a change in the realm of a schools’ required influence, meaning that the school is only required to handle Title IX incidents if they occur on-campus, or in university-owned houses surrounding the campus. This leaves out the students staying in the Fairfield beach houses and all students who are abroad.
Monahan assures that even though it’s no longer within the Department of Education’s policy, “it is still important to our unique community that we have processes in place to address such conduct. That is why the new Sexual Misconduct Policy has two separate procedures–one for conduct that falls within the Department of Education’s definition of sexual harassment, and one for conduct that falls outside of it, while still being misconduct based on sex that has a significant impact on our community.”
They’ll be calling these two processes, Process A and Process B.
Process A will follow the Department of Education’s standards, especially involving the new hearing requirement where each party may provide statements and bring witnesses. A move to bring “equality to all students” or as secretary of education, Betsey DeVos, said on Twitter, balance “the scales of justice on campuses across America.” The White House commented as well, to say that the new regulations fix the issues with Title IX as it “often stacked the deck against the accused.”
If the incident doesn’t fall under the requirements from the Department of Education, the hearing will not happen as it would in Process A.
Fairfield does seem to be following the new national standards of attempting to increase the due process and have a fair look at all of the evidence. Kenneth Marcus, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, said “there is no reason why educators cannot protect all of their students — and under this regulation, there will be no excuses for failing to do so.”
Monahan tells me, “both Process A and B involve a full, impartial investigation where both parties may be accompanied by an advisor of their choice, present their evidence, ask that witnesses be interviewed and have the opportunity to review and reply to all evidence before a decision is made.” Then, after a decision is made, both parties are within their right to appeal against the ruling.
Yet, there are many policies throughout the new points that increase Fairfield’s realm of aid that it can provide students.
A student can now request a change in their living arrangements, academic schedule or job position.
Options are available to students, “regardless of whether an individual decides to initiate or participate in an investigation, and could include things like assistance changing residence halls, getting extensions on assignments, getting absences excused or other similar assistance,” Monahan continues.
In 2018, Fairfield University was awarded a $299,954 grant from the Office on Violence Against Women to help prevent sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking in our community.
Pam Paulmann, the grant coordinator, said that “since the grant, our team has been able to create new customized prevention training offered to all new students, prevention and trauma informed training for faculty and staff and enhanced training for public safety officers. We have established a 24/7 Confidential Care line to support all students affected by sexual assault, dating/domestic violence or stalking: (203)-256-7272 (SARA).”
But, there’s an issue here with a lack of prevention. Other than the “Not Anymore Program” that students are required to complete, there’s not much else offered by Fairfield. Paulmann mentioned, “we have also been working to provide other prevention training to any student group upon request, including ‘Conversations on Manhood’ that challenges stereotypes, ‘How to Support a Survivor’ and One Love’s workshops on healthy relationships.”
Fairfield’s front facing program in prevention, “Not Anymore,” has its own issues. All students are asked to complete the program before coming to school. For the first-year students, at least, the real deadline for completing the program is at the end of the semester, and students are threatened with a failing grade for their First-Year Experience course if they don’t meet that deadline.
While researching this article, I discovered that all of the answers to the program are available online. Learning to correct wrong assumptions about sexual assault and consent are possibly going unlearned by a subsection of students. It’s a possibility that a student fails the program the first time, goes to retake it and simply searches for the answers online so they don’t have to learn why they’re wrong.
There’s also an issue, I believe, with the intention behind the program. Their website does state that this program is designed, “to help build viewer empathy to reduce interpersonal violence.” However, just a singular scroll down the page states that the program is also designed to “help your campus meet Title IX education and VAWA requirements,” VAWA meaning the Violence Against Women Act.
This means that meeting these requirements seems to be of an equal importance to the protection of students.
“Every college likes to ignore the bad things that happen on their campus, but they still happen,” Drake stated.
The Mirror reached out to the Dean of Students’ Office for a comment on the “Not Anymore” program, but did not receive a response before publication of this article.
The number of bad things happening on Fairfield’s campus are available to students, they just might not be aware of it. Through a signed 1990 federal statute, called The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act or Clery Act, any higher education facility that participates in federal financial aid programs has to disclose a crime report of campus life.
Though not discussed, Fairfield’s Clery Act report is available on public safety’s section of Fairfield’s website. In 2019, there were nine instances of sexual offences. Many are left to wonder that, with the known statistics that 20 percent of women and four percent of men are sexually assaulted in college yearly as reported on our “Not Anymore” course, how many cases go unreported?
Drake tells me it’s hard to criticize the Title IX coordinators, as they’re working with the federal standards they have. She also feels encouraged by the fact that students are finally speaking up, and is excited to start the Every Voice club on campus. Though still in the works, she asks students to keep an eye out on Life@Fairfield.